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Parshas Shmini 5758 - '98

Outline Vol. 2, # 25

by Rabbi Yaakov Bernstein

Chodshei Hashanah Vol. 2, Part 14

Wine and Service

Due to computer failure, the format of Haaros has been slightly different for a few issues. We hope to resume our normal format soon.)

Chasom Sofer referred to the Rambam's work, Moreh Nevuchim (Guide of the Perplexed). Rambam explained the sacrifices, but could not find an explanation for the wine-pouring on the altar and the singing of the Levi'im. Someone suggested to the Rambam a solution: Wine helps man rejoice. Man dedicates this element of human rejoicing to Hashem; at the same time, man sings -- devoting his energy to the heavens. Chasom Sofer explained that such a dedication of wine and song would fulfill the verse: "Love Hashem with all your might..."

The dedication of simcha -- rejoicing -- entailed the applying of wine on the altar, but not the drinking of the wine.

In our parsha, Aharon's sons, Nadav and Avihu, commit some mysterious crime in connection with the services. As a consequence, they are burned by the fire of the altar. Following this episode, the Torah forbids Kohanim to perform the services in a state of intoxication.

In the Talmud, numerous explanations concerning the offense of Aharon's sons are offered. One such explanation: they were intoxicated at the time of the service. According to this, we must ask: what were they attempting to accomplish in a state of intoxication?

The Sefer Haparshiyos explains that the services should always be performed in a state of joy. Just as we drink wine for Kiddush, or for the four cups at Pesach, the Kohanim thought to drink wine before the services.

We must realize that the law forbidding Kohanim to drink wine at the time of the services, or the Rav at the time he makes a legal decision, entails merely drinking a "revi'is" -- one large cupful -- of wine. The Baalei Musar point out that such an amount of wine would hardly cause a noticeable affect on most adults, yet, nonetheless, is forbidden in these instances. It seems likely that Aharon's sons had merely imbibed such a small amount.

In connection to the Yom Tov (festivals), the Talmud states: Ein Simcha Ela B'vasar V'yie'in. "Rejoicing required at Yom Tov necessitates drinking wine and eating meat." Actually, there is an active debate among the commentaries and halachic decisors, as to whether the reference is to actual indulging in wine and meat, or, rather, the wine and meat of the altar in ancient days.

The difference between the two opinions is significant; the wine of the altar is not imbibed, but poured out. The rejoicing, as we discussed several issues ago, was brought about by the singing of the Levi'im at the time of the wine-pouring. Thus, if the simcha (rejoicing) intended refers to the wine of the altar, our part today would be song, corresponding to the majestic singing of the Levi'im during the sacrifices.

Even if today's rejoicing does involve eating meat and drinking wine, that is only because we are not Kohanim performing the service at the altar. Our meat and wine may help us to lift our spirits in song. It is especially appropriate to share our meat and wine with those less fortunate than ourselves, that they, too may lift their spirits in song -- but it is not the eating and drinking alone that induce joy.

It is perhaps for this reason that the death of Nadav and Avihu is followed by the warning for the Kohanim not to indulge in wine before the services, and, further, the laws of forbidden foods are presented. Food and drink can be helpful in developing a positive attitude, besides the physical energy that the body draws from eating and drinking. However, just as food and drink can be constructive, physically and spiritually, so, too, they can be harmful, physically and spiritually.


Nadav and Avihu and Rosh Chodesh Nisan

Another explanation of the crime of Nadav and Avihu helps us with a long-standing discussion. The Torah states that they brought incense with "Eish Zara" -- strange fire. Rashbam explains that, although fire normally is brought from a Kohein, on the first day of the official services it was to be different. On this particular day, fire would only come, miraculously, from Hashem's altar (actually, from the Kodesh Hakodashim -- the Holy of Holies). When Nadav and Avihu decided to bring their own fire -- which they had not been commanded to do -- they endangered themselves. The fire came, as it was supposed to, from the Kodesh Hakodashim -- but found Nadav and Avihu in the way. The fire consumed them, then continued on to the outer altar.

Why had Nadav and Avihu decided to bring their own fire and incense, when they were not so commanded? Based on a similar understanding of the story to that of Rashbam, the Chasom Sofer returns us to our discussions concerning Rosh Chodesh.

As we have mentioned, Rosh Chodesh, the beginning of the month, is the day on which the new moon appears. However, there is often a doubt as to which of two days the moon will appear. Since the special sacrifices of the dedication were to be performed on Rosh Chodesh, the Kohanim thought that the reason they were not told to bring fire and incense was because it was not yet certain that today, was, indeed, Rosh Chodesh. Perceiving that fire had already begun to appear miraculously, Nadav and Avihu decided that Hashem had indicated that Rosh Chodesh had occurred. Therefore, they thought they should bring their fire and incense, as on a normal day. They did not realize that this particular day was meant to be drastically different -- in order that everyone perceive the miracle of the sacrifices -- that the fire descended directly, miraculously, from Hashem Himself.

From this explanation of the Chasom Sofer, it is clear that all the sacrifices of Rosh Chodesh were to be brought on both days, with various conditions, due to the doubt regarding the exact day of Rosh Chodesh. (See Toras Moshe, beginning of Shmini; also see Toras Moshe in Pinchus, and Chidushei Chasom Sofer Beitza.)


Rabbi Yaakov Bernstein
Kollel of Kiryas Radin
11 Kiryas Radin
Spring Valley, NY 10977
Phone: (914) 362-5156

Good Shabbos!

Text Copyright © '98 Rabbi Yaakov Bernstein and Project Genesis, Inc.



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